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Earlier this week, the state of Washington went to trial relying on a controversial legal theory to win $38 billion from three large pharmaceutical wholesalers for failing to monitor shipments of prescription opioid painkillers and, as a result, jeopardizing public health.

As with any trial, legal strategy is something of a gamble. In this instance, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson had rejected a settlement offer of $527.5 million over 18 years, which he called “woefully insufficient.” Instead, he believes the state can convincingly argue that the wholesalers caused a “public nuisance,” which generally refers to an action that damages or interferes with a community.

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